It was the final battle, the campaign had gone on for around 2 years, my first campaign I’d ever run actually, everything leading up to this point. The players were clever, using rules to their advantage, I never really had to fight with them as they never pushed the boundaries, just infuriatingly danced around within them. I say that with love they were an awesome group. Important note, a session lasted between 5-6 hours.
They had gathered up a massive army from across the world to fight against the big bad, who in turn had a massive army defending his stronghold. Allies and friends they had made through the journey turned up to fight, in real life one of the players was also going to be moving away in a couple weeks, so it was good timing for everything to wrap up.
The party was a Cleric, a Rogue, a Fighter, a Wizard and a Barbarian. We were playing 4th ed.
Just before the final siege the Cleric asked if they could have the dwarves build a catapult that could launch trees, rootball and all, the big bad purposefully chose a location with few large rocks to impede any sort of siege, BUT there was a few large forests nearby. The dwarves agreed that they could indeed pull that off. I wasnt aware the PCs plans were currently in motion.
My plan was to have a large scale battle, the PCs heading up an elite squad to move around the battlefield and assist in places that were faltering, and take down generals and other nasty monsters holding up the attack. If they succeeded the enemy army was going to retreat back into the empty city (I had described how the entire army was outside the city) and make a final stand inside fighting from house to house. Flying in was not an option as the walls were bristling with anti air weapons. At the end they would either have to be very clever or be spent of many daily spells and class features.
What happened: The battle begins both sides crash into each other. The dwarves are getting used to their tree slingers, a dragon they had made a tentative truce with was ripping the trees up for the ammunition. Trees were ripping through columns of enemies, crashing into and sailing over the walls. You’ve probably noticed I’ve mentioned trees a couple of times by now. The party joined in the combat briefly to make sure no one was pushed back. Finally the dwarves contact them and tell them they have figured out their calculations per shot. The party moves back.
An important item to mention, the party had picked up a magic item that once per in game week allowed them to cast an 8th level or lower ritual instantly, in 4th that meant a ritual that an 8th level character could cast.
The Cleric asks them to fire a tree over the walls and uses said item to cast the ritual tree stride, a ritual they picked up, used once about a year before and we all largely forgot about, as it falls down behind the walls. 30 minutes in and they have a portal into the city. That was atleast a session and a half gone.
I still remember their shit-eating grins as I told them “well played, well played. Give me a few moments to collect my thoughts and notes.” I luckily had written everything till the end down and improv is easy for me as a dm.
Get back to it, try and get the house to house fight started, maybe the gate guards will notice and raise the alarm. Nope rolled garbage for them, they notice nothing. Rogue dispatches them quick. Ok maybe one of the crews from the anti air weapons could open the gates, hopefully the party moves onward towards another encounter planned ahead.
They figure out how many teams they need to kill to allow a big enough gap the dragon to make it’s way through and lay waste to all the other teams. And do so. Then contact the dragon, it has a good time for a bit.
Craaaaap. Ok collect thoughts time again, a few minutes later good to go. I’m not going to take away the reward they earned for clever thinking. Maybe the next encounter will slow them down and allow for someone in the city to notice something is amiss.
Next encounter was with an old PC the left for dead, looted the corpse of, and never buried, rezzed by the enemy and was now pissed (player wanted a new character and killed them off, was fine with whatever happend to them) I had planned for it to be a conflict of morals for the party, but they annihilated her so quick the ambush was a failure, the PCs thought it was suspicious and didnt give them a second. They were in the big bads city after all. Cant fault them.
Ok, ok, ok, they get to go for the big bads tower in the center of the city then the house to house stuff and alot of character things are out the window, another session and a half gone. The big bad is strong enough to take them on and make them realize they need allies to help them.
They kick in his tower door, make their way to the top, hes there ready for them, monologues while fighting, his body guards paired with him make a near impossible fight for their character level. It’s been near a decade since this game, so I forget the spell, but all I know is the next roll went in favour of the players and suddenly the big bad was banished. It’s ok though, his saving throws are great, all that could keep him away is a roll of a 1, 2, or 3. One body guard dispatched, one failed save. Another gone, a couple more failed saves. All the body guards but one who is now heavily injured gone, finally I save. Big bad is back! He attacks, deals real nasty damage to the cleric. The fight can be turned around!
Or so I thought, until, once again old campaign and I haven’t played 4th since, a spell I forget the exact name of is cast and the BBEG falls into magical sleep. Which we had ruled a long while before that if you are attacked you get a saving throw and it’s not an automatic wake up for magical unconsciousness only. You know where this goes.
Other body guard is dead. They sync up their coup de graces to trigger only one saving throw, so two per turn, one on bbegs turn and once per synced attack. I figured the BBEG could last around 6 rounds of massive damage with the health it had. Attacks rained down, saves were failed. Finally with about 100 hp left a save was made, up he got, big area attack, action point, second area attack. The dust settles, my terrible roles are tallied up, the wizard got hit once, so did the fighter. Great.
None of them had used their daily attacks yet. Side note for people who dont know 4e, it’s very different from each other D&D edition, it’s more of a super hero simulator, and dailies are like the super hero’s special attack. All of them were being unleashed in a single turn, action point followed by their other dailies. Down goes BBEG, died with a whimper instead of a bang. 4 sessions of material out the window.
And I couldn’t have been happier, it was an awesome end to the campaign. Sure it messed with everything I planned, sure it ruined the epic ending fight, but who friggen cares? The cleverness of the PCs mixed with terrible roles (I make all roles out in the open minus the odd ones for behind the scenes stuff) made for a story we all remember a decade later. But yeah, they won, they had an epilogue where they essentially looted the tower of its vast riches, used magics to look at their secret snow base, saw a tree, spent 30 minutes on a ritual, tree strode in and out with hoards of treasure and disappeared into the ether.